Waylon Wilson

Čá••hu! – Is Anyone There?
Video Games, Place-Based Knowledge, and the Future Imaginary

Using painting and installation to bring an embodied, feminist practice into the long history of mapping space from the position of the body, I am interested in exploring how the body, with a particular focus on the permeability of its boundary, be used to think about larger systems of spatial organization and delineation.

This thesis considers how digital media can be designed to strengthen relationships to land. It uses the concept of the ‘future imaginary’ to address how Indigenous peoples might use digital media to reimagine their relationship to place-based knowledge.

A major component of this thesis is articulated through an original video game, Čá••hu! (Is Anyone There?) It is anchored in the geographic region of the “western door” of Tuscarora - Akunęhsyę•ni' (Haudenosauenee) territories, near Niagara Falls. My goal for the game was to illuminate ideas about traditional teachings and land. Čá••hu is based on the Akunęhsyę•ni' teaching Ha' Kanęherathęčreh (“Words Before All Else”), also known as the Thanksgiving Address.” The Ha' Kanęherathęčreh is recited when our people gather to “bring our minds together as one,” but it also demonstrates and reminds us of the non-hierarchical relationship between ourselves as humans and all other living things.

Tuscarora, or Skarù•rę’ as we call ourselves, are known for our raised beadwork; a style of beadwork Skarù•rę’ women developed and sold at the brink of Niagara Falls, Luna and Three Sisters Island from the 1830s up to the 1960s. Tuscarora beadworkers sold beadwork and “Jitterbugs” throughout our territories as a means of economic and cultural survival. Jitterbugs are wire-framed people made of extra beads that would accumulate over time. Beadwork reflects temporally located knowledge that is part of an Akunęhsyę•ni' (Haudenosaunee) aesthetic resurgence, and has historic roots in the development and use of wampum. Čá••hu uses visual elements of historic and contemporary beadwork to create the digital game space.

Tuscarora youth learn to make Jitterbugs as their first attempt at beading. I look at Jitterbugs as constituting a Future Imaginary because it helps youth to connect to our history by stringing together a wire and beaded “being” to encourage their imaginations. Čá••hu bridges the distance between elders and youth, place-based knowledge and traditional teachings through the experiences of the Jitterbug figure (player) with the objective of transforming an environmentally devastated landscape to one of wellness.

As Skarù•rę’ ękwehę•we (real people) and a game maker, I utilize the Future Imaginary throughout my game development process while centering Akunęhsyę•ni' place-based knowledge. A major influence on this project has been video games categorized as “Critical Play” because of their focus on critiquing social issues. Critical Play is a methodology tha studies games and their contexts in order to examine how play establishes critical thinking. The gameplay or action in this game is based on a 3D platform and features an ‘open-world’ walking simulator that allows the player to explore storied landscapes through environmental storytelling.